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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

French protesters and police clash in marches against pension changes

Protesters and police clashed on the edges of street demonstrations in France on Tuesday as hundreds of thousands of people took part in marches against Emmanuel Macron’s use of constitutional executive powers to push through an unpopular rise in the pension age to 64.

While demonstrations in Paris and Nantes were peaceful, with the majority of demonstrators chanting and calling for the pension changes to be scrapped, on the margins in some cities, men in masks or hoods clashed with police.

In Paris, police fired teargas and launched a charge after some people at the head of the protest, dressed in black with their faces covered, raided and looted a supermarket and then started a fire as the march approached Place de la Nation in the east of the city. At least 22 people were arrested in the capital by the afternoon, Paris police said.

In the western city of Nantes, protesters threw projectiles at security forces who responded withtear gas, AFP reported. A bank branch was set on fire and rubbish bins were set alight near a court building. Police in Lyon in southeastern France used water cannon. In Lille, police used teargas after bus stops were smashed.

In Bordeaux some hooded people lit fires and projectiles were thrown. In Toulouse, police used water cannon.

Turnout at the street protests across France appeared to be slightly lower than the last day of strikes and protests last Thursday. The interior ministry said 740,000 people took part in protests across France.

Nearly two weeks after the government pushed the new pensions law through using a special provision that bypassed a parliament vote, unions have vowed to continue mass protests to get the government to back down. Macron refuses to abandon the increase in the pension age, which was a central part of his manifesto before he was elected to a second term last year.

Strikes affected transport, the energy sector, schools and civil aviation on Tuesday. About 15% of service stations in France are short of petrol because of refinery strikes. Protesters in Nantes, western France, blocked access roads to the city,creating congestion early in the day. The FIDL high school union said 500 high schools had been barricaded and closed across the country. Dozens of university buildings were also barricaded and closed. The Eiffel tower closed because staff were striking.

Rubbish collectors in Paris are to suspend a three-week strike that has seen thousands of tonnes of garbage accumulate across half of the city, the CGT union said. But it said this was to allow coordination with workers “so we can go on strike again even more strongly”.

At the Paris march, Yves, a former teacher and factory worker, who retired at 59, said: “People are demonstrating on the street because citizens aren’t being listened to. We’re afraid of being teargassed but the police should be protecting us.”

“The social state and the social safety net is disappearing,” said Françoise, a social worker, who was due to retire in three months at 63.

Inès, 25, from Seine Saint Denis, who had worked as a supermarket cashier and in fast-food chains, said: “This is about workers on the streets fighting for their rights.”

Bertrand, a youth worker in Paris, said: “The street must be listened to, which isn’t the case so far. It’s not only pensions it’s about people’s whole professional lives and working conditions.”

Laurent Berger, the head of the moderate CFDT union, said he would accept the government’s offer of talks about general working conditions in France but only if the pensions changes were first “put to one side”. He also called for the appointment of a mediator between unions and the government saying this would be “a gesture in favour of cooling off, and finding a way out”.

But the government spokesman, Olivier Véran, said the pensions law was no longer up for discussion. “It’s in the past now,” Véran said.

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